Many Benchmark products include our HPA2™ headphone power amplifier. Unlike most headphone amplifiers, the HPA2 is designed to behave like a small but very clean power amplifier. What makes the HPA2 different, and what do we mean when we say that the HPA2 is a "power amplifier"?

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Consumer products are usually packed with features but they often fall short when it comes to audio quality. These products deliver a level of performance that is acceptable to most consumers, and they do so at very affordable prices. Nevertheless there is often a large performance difference between consumer and professional audio products.

One of our customers, Jeff Switzer, owns a Marantz AV8801 pre-pro and he took a look inside to see how it was built. His detailed analysis shows how consumer product cost constraints limit audio performance. Please understand that we don't want to single out Marantz. The construction of the AV8801 is similar to most other consumer audio products, and it may even be better than most. These products are designed to deliver many features at a very low cost. Audio performance is not a primary goal of most consumer products, and this becomes clear as Jeff walks us through the signal path of the Marantz AV8801 and AV8802. Jeff opened the hood on his pre-pro, searched the internet for schematics photos, and data sheets and then sent us his analysis without our solicitation. His analysis was so good that I thought it deserved to be published in our application notes. Jeff graciously agreed to grant permission.

Jeff's teardown analysis is a bit technical, but I know that some of our readers will appreciate the detail. For the rest of our readers, let me summarize by saying that there are real differences between consumer products and high-end professional audio products.

John Siau, Benchmark Media Systems, Inc.

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Blu-ray disks often contain high-resolution audio formats. Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD are two Blu-ray audio encoding formats that support lossless high-resolution audio. These systems support up to 8 channels of 24-bit, 96kHz audio, or up to 6 channels of 24-bit 192 kHz audio.

Blu-ray disks may seem like an ideal solution for the distribution of high-resolution audio, but there are problems. It is not easy to gain access to the high-resolution audio stored on these disks.

Our solution was to set up a PC-based music (and video) server. We used a Blu-ray equipped PC running Windows 7 and the JRiver MediaCenter software.

This application note provides a guide for setting up a music server that can play the lossless high-resolution audio tracks found on DVD and Blu-ray disks.

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Digital recordings are now available in a variety of sample rates. The CD uses a 44.1 kHz sample rate, but high-resolution audio recordings are now available in sample rates of 96 kHz and 192 kHz. What are the advantages of higher sample rates? How high a sample rate do we really need?

Digital audio systems take instantaneous snapshots or "samples" of an analog audio signal and then store each of these samples as numeric values. The digital samples can be stored and transmitted without any loss of quality, but these samples must be used to reconstruct an analog signal before we can listen to the audio. The sample rate places very specific limitations ...

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Bit Depth

We now have 16-bit CDs and 24-bit high-resolution recordings available to us. What are the advantages of a 24-bit word length? Are 24-bit recordings better? How many bits do we really need?

Bit depth (also known as word length) indicates how many bits are used to represent each sample in a digital sampling system. Each sample is a snapshot of a signal or voltage at an instant in time. The CD uses 16 bits to represent the voltage of an audio waveform at each instant in time. Other digital audio systems use different bit depths ranging from 1 to 64 bits. It is important to understand the relationship between bit depth and audio quality. The bit depth sets ...

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John Siau's Forum post about Jitter and A-to-D comparisons

All A/D converters have two forms of jitter: Conversion clock jitter, and interface jitter. These two forms of jitter are very different and have very different consequences. Conversion clock jitter ...

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The music industry is struggling to define High-Resolution Audio or "HRA". In doing so, most have focused on the delivery formats - analog vs. digital, 24-bits vs. 16-bits, 1X vs. 2X and 4X sample rates, PCM vs. DSD, uncompressed vs. compressed.

But, High-Resolution Audio is much more than the delivery format. Read more ...

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This myth goes something like this:

"Analog audio has infinite amplitude resolution, but the resolution of digital audio is limited to a finite number of steps."

While it is true that digital systems quantize the amplitude of the audio signal to the nearest step in the digital encoding system, this does not necessarily mean that digital systems cannot have infinite resolution. Contrary to popular belief, digital systems can provide infinite amplitude resolution if they are properly dithered.

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The performance of the AHB2 would not have been achievable without taking a radical approach to power amplification. In many ways, the AHB2 is a complete 180 degree departure from traditional high-end amplifier designs. There is nothing ordinary about the Benchmark AHB2.  Read more ...

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It's all about control! The movement of headphone transducers must be well controlled in order to produce high-quality audio. It is easy to build a headphone amplifier that produces sound.  It is an entirely different matter to produce an amplifier that is clear, clean, and enjoyable.  

Headphone amplifiers need ...

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